Costa Rica Photo Workshop

Trip Report – Costa Rica Photo Workshop – April 2016

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

Costa Rica Photo Workshop

Rene, John, Maureen, Iain, Jose and Matt

The Costa Rica photography workshop had great guests, beautiful weather, and stunning scenery. What else could you ask for!

The hummingbirds were in fantastic numbers in 2016 and provided excellent images for everyone. The group of 4, (3 returning guests), consisted of Iain from Australia, Rene from Switzerland, John from the UK, and Maureen from California.

Below is a description of the 2016 Costa Rica Photography Workshop:

The group arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica and was then transferred to our beautiful hotel with the finest gardens around. Guests ventured into the beautiful gardens of the hotel to start with a little flower photography and were treated to images of some of the birds that visit these gardens.

As the evening came, we met for a welcome dinner with group. Discussions about Costa Rica, the lodges we will be visiting and special places we will photographing the wildlife were had. We also began our discussions on the different hummingbird photography techniques we will be using over the coming week. Early to bed as the journey starts tomorrow early.

After a nice breakfast we headed out to our first photo stop just outside the city of San Jose. We visited a ranch that has Toucans, Sloths (Baby sloths too!!!), Ocelot and a Great Potoo.

Other Species we saw on the ranch

  • Barred Hawk
    A little sloth photography up close.

    A little sloth photography up close.

  • Southern Crested Caracara
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Bare Shanked Screech Owl
  • Black And White Owl
  • Mottled Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy – Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Striped Owl
  • Tropical Screech – Owl
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Great Green Macaw
  • Chestnut – Mandibled Toucan
  • Keel Billed Toucan
  • Collared Aracari
  • Hoffmans Two – Toed Sloth
  • Three -Toed Sloth
  • Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine
  • Neotropical River Otter
  • Spider Monkey

We are able to photograph and view these animals up close and hear their stories about how they arrived at the ranch.

The favorites were certainly the Sloths as we watched and photographed them climbing trees. Lots of time for composing images as the slowness of these amazing creatures gives the photographer the upper hand.

We had catered local dishes brought in for lunch so we could dedicate all of our time photographing these beautiful animals up close. As mid-afternoon came, we said farewell to our new friends and continued climbing into the mountains for our first bird lodge nestled in the Central Volcanic Mountain Range at 5,000 ft of altitude. The lodge is a private reserve with over 1,000 acres being protected for wildlife. We arrive just in time for delicious dinner and to get a good night’s sleep.


Wildlife photography doesn't have to be uncomfortable. John and Iain photographing the birds from the deck.

Wildlife photography doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. John and Iain photographing the birds from the deck.

Our multi-flash hummingbird photography began today and we set up our gear in a covered pavilion. By utilizing this technique, we can freeze the hummingbirds wings with amazing detail at a shutter speed equivalent to 1/10,000 of a second. We rotated between natural light shooting of the hummingbirds and multi-flash setups.

Here are some of the species of hummingbirds we photographed at the lodge:

  • Green hermit hummingbird (Phaetornis guy)
  • Green violet-ear hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus)
  • Violet sabrewing hummingbird (Campylopterus hemileucurus)
  • Green-crowned brilliant hummingbird (Heliodoxa jacula)
  • Violet-crowned wood nymph hummingbird(Thalurania colombica)
  • Purple-throated mountain-gem hummingbird (Lampornis calolaema)
  • Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)
  • Black-bellied hummingbird (Eupherusa nigriventris)
  • Green thorntail hummingbird (Discosura conversii)
  • Scintillant hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)
Iain photographing the White Noised Coati

Iain photographing the White Nosed Coati

In addition to the hummingbirds, we were also visited by the White Nosed Coati and Agouti that visit the lodge regularly. These two unique mammals that call Costa Rica their home are always a thrill to see up close.

Hummingbird photography continued today as we refined our images and got a little creative. As the group found different flowers for the hummingbirds to be photographed with, they rotated the flowers at different angles to have the hummingbirds hover in different positions with wings out, tails flared and beaks in the colorful flowers.

Tonight we took a little time for image show and tell so the group could share ideas. We also had group discussions on techniques to improve our hummingbird images.


This morning we left our lodge and took a short drive to the tallest, and one of the most photogenic waterfalls in Costa Rica. This waterfall is very special as it is not only very high, but it falls down into a sleeping volcanic caldera.

The reward after a nice hike down the caldera.

The reward after a nice hike down the caldera.

The view from the top is spectacular, and all of the group opted to hike down to the bottom for a closer view. As we hiked down the trail, we continued to stop at different compositions all the way to the bottom taking images as our views changed of this amazing place. As the white water fell against the colored rock, we took advantage for a group photo.

We were rewarded by our hike as we were the only ones down at the bottom of the caldera and were able to enjoy the sounds of the crashing water.

We started our hike back up, taking in the view, and catching our breath on the way. Once at the top, we had a little rest, and then we continue our journey to another bird sanctuary at a lower altitude of 900 feet.

We spend the rest of the day photographing at the next private reserve, a sanctuary for wildlife that was reclaimed and replanted 35 years ago by the owners with trees and plants that are among the favorites of the birds. The owners kindly explain the history of the project as we photograph the wildlife from the deck offering 360 degree views.

We were quickly visited by the following birds:

  • Red-legged honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus)
  • Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)
  • Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula)
  • Blue-gray tanager (Thraupis episcopus)
  • Golden-hooded tanager (Tangara larvata)
  • Crimson-collared tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus)
  • Black-cheeked woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)
  • Collared araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)
  • Jesus Lizard or Basiliscus as it runs on water
  • Clay-colored thrush
  • Parakeets
  • Gray-headed Chachalaca
  • King Fisher
  • Grey Hawk
Water pours in an ancient volcanoes caldera in Costa Rica. Stock Image #20160414-092654

Water pours in an ancient volcanoes caldera in Costa Rica.

We ordered a tasty Costa Rican pizza delivered to the deck so we could continue shooting throughout the day.

Some of the hummingbirds we photographed.

  • White-necked jacobin hummingbird (Florisuga mellivora)
  • Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)
  • Green-breasted mango hummingbird (Anthracothorax prevostii)
  • Bronze-tailed plumeleteer hummingbird (Chalybura urochrysia) also known as the Red-footed plumeleteer hummingbird
  • Scaly-breasted hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii)
  • Stripe-throated hermit hummingbird (Phaethornis striigularis)

As they day came to a close, we thanked our hosts and headed to our hotel for the night. The hotel, right on a river with wildlife all around. As we relaxed in the open air lounge we enjoyed some cold beers before dinner. Another tasty meal and off to bed we go. Rest up as tomorrow is frog day!!


After a short drive from our hotel, we get deep into the back roads of Costa Rica to visit a family who have turned some of their farm acreage into a protected frog habitat, planting vegetation the frogs prefer, and creating pond breeding grounds.

As we arrive we are welcomed and there is a bit of a surprise for Maureen, opportunity to be up close and personal with a Boa Constrictor.

Matt and his new friend pose for a photo.

Matt and his new friend pose for a photo.

We had a great time photographing all of the species below creating many memories.

  • Red Eyed Tree frog
  • Blue Jeans frog
  • Dink frog
  • Green and Black poison dart frog
  • Masked Tree frog
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Collared Araçari
  • Red-legged honeycreeper
  • Tanagers
  • Thrush
  • Toucans
  • Flycatcher
  • Yellow headed woodpecker
  • Sloth high up in the trees

As lunch time approached, the owners mother prepared a fantastic home cooked Costa Rican meal for us, and fresh juice from fruit from the farm.

As the day came to a close we said our goodbyes and hopped in the bus to go to our next lodge in the Cordillera Talamancato region. We arrived just in time for a delicious dinner.

Tonight we discussed Photoshop techniques to bring out the detail in our images and worked on layers and masks for selective modifications as well as noise reduction and sharpening techniques.


It has to be five-o-clock somewhere. Rene and Maureen enjoying a cold Costa Rican beverage.

It has to be five-o-clock somewhere. Rene and Maureen enjoying a cold Costa Rican beverage.

Today we continued our hummingbird photography with local flowers found around the lodge. We utilized both natural light techniques as well as the multi-flash hummingbird setups from the deck.

Rene had the best luck today as he filled up a 64 gigabyte card in just one hour of shooting. The hummingbirds certainly liked his selection of flowers today.

Here are the species we photographed today:

  • Stripe-throated hermit hummingbird (Phaethornis striigularis)
  • Violet sabrewing hummingbird (Campylopterus hemileucurus)
  • White-necked jacobin hummingbird (Florisuga mellivora)
  • Green-breasted mango hummingbird (Anthracothorax prevostii)
  • Black-crested coquette hummingbird (Lophornis helenae)
  • Green thorntail hummingbird (Discosura conversii)
  • Violet-crowned woodnymph hummingbird (Thalurania colombica colombica)
  • Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)
  • Bronze-tailed plumeleteer hummingbird (Chalybura urochrysia) also known as the red-footed plumeleteer
  • Green-crowned brilliant hummingbird (Heliodoxa jacula)
  • Snow Cap hummingbird (Microchera albocoronata)

As the day came to a close, we had a relaxing dinner served on the deck overlooking the mountains and then reviewed our favorite images from the day and discussed other techniques to create unique images.

A red eyed tree frog poses for a picture in beautiful Costa Rica. Stock Image #20150405-091451

A red eyed tree frog poses for a picture in beautiful Costa Rica.

We continued our photography today with more hummingbird’s images from the lodges deck, as well as John, Rene, Iain and Maureen all photographed the cute little Snow Cap hummingbird in the flowers around the lodge and in natural light. The Snow Cap is a beautiful little hummingbird with a magenta hue with a bright white cap, making for a great photo.

Tonight we continued our Photoshop discussions on color correction and demonstration of a full image workup from start to finish.

Today we continued our hummingbird photography on the last day of the workshop. As our transportation arrived, John, Rene and Iain continued with us on the extension into the highland to the South, as Maureen headed to the airport to catch her flight back home to California. It’s always sad when you have to say goodbye after a great week.

As the remaining group drove through the winding roads of Costa Rica, we climbed to the highest altitude of the trip, 8,100 feet. We will be hosted by a family who works with the local farmers in the area to protect the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal.

After we arrived, and had a nice dinner we sat by a warm fire and relaxed.


On the trail to photograph the beautiful Resplendent quetzal

On the trail to photograph the beautiful Resplendent quetzal

An early morning for the group as we head out with a local bird guide to photograph the Resplendent Quetzal. There are many active nests (15) in the area and within 5 minutes we find a male quetzal returning to feed chicks in the nest. Everyone captures beautiful images of this colorful bird perched on a mossy limb with a grasshopper in its beak.

We continue to photograph a couple more Quetzals as the morning goes on, and then return to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch we photograph some of the unique species of hummingbirds that visit this area from the deck. Great images of hummingbirds in natural light perched and in flight feasting on flowers from the area.

Here are some of the hummingbirds we photographed.

  • Violet sabrewing hummingbird (Campylopterus hemileucurus)
  • Green violetear hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus)
  • Fiery-throated hummingbird (Panterpe insignis)
  • Purple-throated mountaingem hummingbird (Lampornis calolaemus)
  • Green-crowned brilliant hummingbird (Heliodoxa jacula)
  • Magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens)
  • Volcano hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula)
  • White throated mountaingem hummingbird (Lampornis cinereicauda)

After a full day of shooting we shared a relaxing dinner at the lodge.


A Replendent Quetzal perched nears its nest with a grasshopper in its beak. Highlands of Costa Rica. Stock Image #20160419-064116

A Replendent Quetzal perched nears its nest with a grasshopper in its beak.

We started early again with our local guide for more Quetzal photography. Today we photographed 2 different Quetzals in flight, both tending to 2 different nests. We then headed back to the lodge for breakfast and headed back out again and continued to photograph the beautiful Quetzal.

In the afternoon we said our goodbyes and departed the lodge and continue our journey in the high mountains as we head to the next lodge.

On arrival, we photographed the hummingbirds in the beautiful gardens and in the evening enjoyed a relaxing beer on the deck overlooking a river talking about our adventures. We then took a little time to reviewed images and brainstorm about different compositions.

The hummingbird species we photographed:

  • Green-crowned brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula)
  • Magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens)
  • White throated mountaingem hummingbird (Lampornis cinereicauda)
  • White-tailed emerald hummingbird (Elvira chionura)
  • Volcano hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula)
  • Scintillant hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)
  • Stripe tail hummingbird (Eupherusa eximia)


A Collared Aracari on its perch in Costa Rica. Stock Image #20160415-120902

A Collared Aracari on its perch in Costa Rica.

Our last day of the extension started with another Quetzal tour in a new area. While we were going for a fantastic composition, our subject did not arrive as we hoped, however the John, Iain and Rene got images of another male quetzal and a female. After lunch we then headed up to a private deck overlooking the valley to photograph the tanagers that visit this area.

As we wrapped up shooting at our last lodge, John opted to stay a couple more days in this beautiful area.

Matt, Iain and Rene headed to the the airport to start on their next journey.

Our upcoming photo workshops

Trip Report – Costa Rica Photo Workshop – April 2016 was last modified: September 13th, 2019 by Matt Shetzer